Mark Recchi is nearly a year and a half removed from his final NHL game, one that had him high-stepping around Rogers Arena in Vancouver with the Stanley Cup lifted high over his head, and freely admits that his view of the NHL’s ongoing labor conflict is that of a grateful retiree.
“I coach my son’s team a little bit, and that’s about it for me, hockey-wise,’’ Recchi said a few days ago, talking on the phone from his home in suburban Pittsburgh. “Otherwise, I’m sort of the family limo/taxi driver.
“As far as the lockout goes and everything, I’m glad I’m not involved, not playing.’’
Recchi, who will turn 45 in February, played for nearly a quarter-century in the NHL, his career spanning the lockouts of 1994-95 and 2004-05, the latter of which clipped a full season off his distinguished résumé. Having lived through both of those experiences, and having watched from afar as the current lockout now creeps toward its 60th day, Recchi’s advice to the NHL’s rank-and-file would be to tidy up what’s on the table and get back to work.
“My advice,’’ mused Recchi, part owner of the Kamloops Blazers junior squad in the Western Hockey League, “is that the longer it goes, the worse [the offer] is going to get [for the players]. Hey, I’m an owner, too, so I see both sides. We lose money on our team, and obviously that’s not the same, the money’s not nearly as significant as in the NHL, but the business dynamics are similar. We’ve lost money every year we’ve owned it.’’
Missing from the current lockout has been a voice such Recchi’s, that of a respected veteran with perspective and profile who is able and/or willing to share his perspective with the rank-and-file. Trevor Linden was that player in 2004-05, the ex-Canuck often given credit for helping the NHL Players’ Association finally to come to grips with the salary cap system that Bob Goodenow, then the union’s executive director, so detested and continually rebuked. When the deal finally fell into place in the summer of ’05, the cap was the basis of the NHL’s new financial infrastructure, which last year netted the players some $1.8 billion in salary (57 percent of the game’s $3.3 billion gross take). The deal ratified, Goodenow quickly exited as union boss.
“All part of the PA plan this time,’’ said one club executive, noting how union boss Donald Fehr has, for the most part, brought lower-profile players to the bargaining table since talks began midway through the summer. “It’s Don and a bunch of average Joes this time.’’
To that point, superstar Sidney Crosby recently attended bargaining sessions, but Sid the Kid returned to Pittsburgh as hopes of finalizing a new deal diminished. And many of the game’s top-level players, including the likes of Boston captain Zdeno Chara, have signed with teams in Europe, leaving them thousands of miles from the bargaining table. There are very few Lindens and Recchis in today’s game, anyway, and thus far not a single player of any profile has piped up publicly that maybe it’s time to fold the tent and get back to work.
“The longer they’re out, the revenues are going to go down and down,’’ said Recchi, explaining why he believes the NHL’s offer is only going to get worse. “Corporate sponsors aren’t going to be lining up . . . so there goes that money. The schedule isn’t going to be 82 games, I don’t think, at this point. That’s more money lost. So, how are you going to get a better deal? Personally, I think the best time is now.’’
Recchi isn’t suggesting that the players blindly accept what commissioner Gary Bettman and his cabal of owners have presented to date, but based on what he has read about the talks and heard from other players, he believes the elements of a deal now are on the table. That wasn’t the case in the league’s initial offer, said Recchi, but he feels the league offer in October had many, if not most, of the key elements needed for the players to ratify.
“There’s definitely a deal there,’’ he said. “Obviously, it has to be fitted. But OK, get it right, then sign the thing for 10 years, get back to playing, and don’t worry about it anymore. You don’t want to go through this again in five or six years.’’
Recchi believes some current players may not realize, or remember, that the players were believed to have lost in the deals that came out of the prior lockouts. Public perception was that they took a beating. That probably will be the case this time, too, he said.
“But look what happened, the players always get their money,’’ he said. “They’re always going to get paid, no matter what. Look at that last deal. We ended up with the cap and everyone thought it was a bad deal. But it ended up great, right? No matter what the system is, or has been, the players get their money. No matter what the contract, the owners always find a way to pay them more. That’s why I say, get a deal and get back in there . . . the money’s always there.’’
Recchi was stunned three years ago when the players abruptly fired Paul Kelly as the union’s executive director, and was among the very few in the Bruins’ dressing room to let his feelings known, especially to teammate Andrew Ference, who helped lead the mutiny against Kelly. He felt Kelly was the right man for the job, someone who could protect the players’ best interests while also working to build on a true partnership with the league.
“A dark time,’’ said Recchi, reflecting on Kelly’s ouster. “And it has been frustrating to see how it’s played out, obviously. If Paul had stayed on the job, I don’t think you would have seen this happen. The two sides would have started talking long before, maybe a year sooner [in 2011], and not with two or three months to go before [the CBA] expired. There would have been something in place, absolutely. And now here they are, trying to get to 50 percent [an even split of revenue] and also trying to make everyone whole. Well, you know, with the escrow we paid, I know I wasn’t made whole over the last few years I played. That’s just the way it was and we accepted it.’’
All in all, said Recchi, he believes it’s time for the players “to think like businessmen.’’
“They have to think, what is best?’’ he said, reflecting again on the players’ ongoing objection to the possibility that not all contracts will be made whole. “Are they better to get 90 percent of what they’re due, or are they better to get zero?’’